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What's in the Social Graph?

An Enquiry into a Technical Protocol

F. N. van der Vlist

In this paper I develop a historical and discursive understanding of the Social Graph. It develops two lines of investigation: first, an epistemological debate is traced that attempts to solve issues of the real-virtual divide. Based on this historical trajectory, a methodological pragmatism becomes apparent that also appears in graph theory as applied to the Social Graph. ‘Big Data’ undermines these issues of a divide by relying on an epistemology of patterns. However, these patterns turn out to be grounded online as well. Second, this epistemological trajectory is connected to current social, economic, and scientific discourse – situating Big Social Data analysis, the Social Graph, and the Open Graph protocol. To this end, Facebook's Social Graph is used as a case study throughout. Ultimately, I argue that the Open Graph, as a supplementary and enforcing protocol to the Social Graph, represents Facebook's normalising strategic direction towards developing a cybernetic infrastructure that rewards those who conform to its commercial ideals, while punishing those who deviate from it.

Big Data; Social Graph; Open Graph protocol; epistemology; discourse analysis; virtuality

Kind Assignment; Working Paper
Author F. N. van der Vlist
Instructor I. J. Ploum; M. P. Stevenson
Publication Date 2013, June 7
Institution University of Amsterdam

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